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Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Mushrooms on my mind

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

These cold snaps have me worried. Not about my garden – I’ve learned my lesson on that one long ago and I still have most of my plants in containers waiting to go in the ground. 

No, what I’m worried about are things that are totally beyond my control. What I’m worried about is how temperature fluctuations are going to impact my summer mushroom hunting. It could be nothing. Or it could be catastrophic. Mushrooms are fickle like that. You never know quite how they are going to react. 

This year’s morel season was probably hurt by our unseasonably cool spring and ice storm debris. While the debris – which will be great for wood decaying species, like oysters, over the next couple of years – might have made it hard to reach mushroom hunting spots and harder still to spot the well camouflaged morels, it was the repeated cold snaps that I think hurt morel hunters this year. All mushrooms require certain conditions to fruit; a specific temperature range, level of humidity, amount of moisture and an appropriate food source. Some even need certain trees to build a life with, attaching their mycelia to the roots in a symbiotic relationship or living exclusively as a decayer of their wood. 

Morels are among the pickiest of the picky. They require exact soil temperatures, and even though we know they are found in relation with certain trees there is still debate about whether they are mycorrhizal, forming those unique relationships with the trees in question like apple and poplar, or simply saprotrophic and feeding on the decaying matter that falls from those trees. It doesn’t change the fact that you should look under poplar or sycamore for morels. It just means we don’t know exactly why you’re more likely to find them there. It also means they are difficult, if not impossible, to grow under any sort of controlled conditions.

My morel haul this year was down significantly this year, and it wasn’t just me. Mushroom hunters across eastern Kentucky have reported a less than spectacular year. 

I’m hopeful the chanterelles this year might make up for it. Chanterelles are actually my favorite mushroom. With a pleasant apricot aroma, a gorgeous, bright orange, egg-yolk color, and a flavor that pairs well with eggs, grilled pork or chicken, they sometimes don’t make it into a dish before I’ve eaten them. They’re so tasty you really don’t need anything more than a hot iron skillet, a large pat of butter, and a dash of sea salt to make them sing. I like to slice and sautee them until the edges begin to caramelize, then add them to my omelets for a breakfast that tastes expensive and decadent on a forager’s budget.

But, this late cold snap has me worried. It wasn’t enough to hurt any of the plants, but mushrooms aren’t plants. They don’t operate by the same rules, and a cold front this late could push back their fruiting time. While it could stay cool and plants would continue to develop fruit as long as they had sunlight, mushrooms require specific temperatures and humidity. I’m not sure what those are for chanterelles, but their season runs from mid-summer through early autumn, indicating a need for warm weather. I usually begin finding them right around the time that blackberries begin to ripen. 

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how they do this year, and add what I observe to what I think I know about them and see how it all stacks up. 

But I’m already thinking about those omelets. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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